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Symphony in Stills

Symphony in Stills

Long-time collaborator, Laurence Ellis captures a series of special portraits that unveils the fusion of Creative Director, Priya Ahluwalia's vision and the wearer's story. 

Each portrait reflects the sense of belonging and self-expression that music brings to diverse tribes. In an exclusive interview, Laurence takes us through his creative journey and his body of work in creating intimate portrayals of the 'Symphony' collection 

 Your portrait photography stands out throughout your work, what was your vision for the Ahluwalia AW23 Symphony campaign?

Priya has been a long-standing collaborator, dating back to her very first collection for More or Less Magazine. Having said that, it’s never felt like work. We’ve always shared a mutual love for creating beautiful images that resonate deeper than simply presenting clothing.

It's an exploration of what that clothing represents through the intersection of our individual identities. We shot the images during the show, which can feel like a very structured environment. I wanted to break out of that and add a lens of humanity and individuality to the images, again shifting the focus from merely the clothing and the notion of a ‘model’.

I aimed to showcase the deeply personal nature of the work, which is the intersection of Priya's world and the world of the person who connects with it through the garments. Something which I believe Priya has always imagined in such a poignant way. To do this, we found a quiet corner away from everything else going on, bringing the approach back to where we began: simple portraits without grandeur or pretence. Just a person having their photo taken.

Can you share 3 words to describe this body of work for the Ahluwalia AW23 Symphony collection? 

Human. Portrait. Presence 

 Having been a long-time collaborator with Priya, what do you enjoy the most about working with her?

From the first time we worked together, there was a connection, stemming from having grown up in the same part of London and both coming from working-class backgrounds. Yet, culturally, our experiences were quite different. I believe we both enjoyed how expansive the lens became, exploring ideas and narratives from this environment through shared memories. These memories had a unique ability to create completely new narratives, some real and some imagined.

 With social anthropology behind your work, how do you approach different projects and stories that you want to tell?

Many young people now gravitate towards activism, making it a significant part of their work, which is crucial in a world filled with so much injustice.I believe there is room for stories that delve into the complexities of communities and experiences, the spectrums that exist, and the intersections where values are shared. 

My most recent project involved working with migrant communities in North Africa, aiming to highlight the personal experiences and journeys of these individuals and communities, as opposed to the oversimplified portrayal often seen in much of Western media. 

I think a deeper understanding of individual experiences, coupled with greater compassion towards our differences, would go a long way in finding the much-needed common ground among diverse and opposing communities. This could help reduce the conflict, destruction, and suffering that has scarred human history. 

You are the founder of Unity, which helps raise awareness and funds to help conserve the Amazon Rain Forest, how do you use your creative work to drive environmental change to this platform?

I invited artists from around the world to submit or create works inspired by trees or forests. We received incredible support, with contributions from artists such as Liz Johnson Artur, Mark Leckey, Jermaine Francis, Tacita Dean, Wolfgang Tillmans, Rineke Dijkstra, and many others. I believe that before we can truly protect anything, we must instil a genuine love for it within people. We often highlight the importance of forests and trees, but it's crucial for individuals to deeply connect and fall in love with them. When that bond is formed, we will undoubtedly treat them with the same love, respect, and care that we extend to our own families. I try to follow this ethos through all my work on our planet.

 What is a message you would like to share for the next generation of fashion creatives? 

We all have different strengths and desires for what we want to express. I believe people should listen more to their internal world and less to external expectations. If we can follow or, at the very least, understand this journey, I feel we would find paths more in tune with our true selves.